Fun Sushi Facts

  • Sushi traditionalists say the fish should never be raw—nor should it be completely fresh.
  • Not long ago, a sushi chef (itamae) had to undergo ten years of training before working in a restaurant. Today, demand for these skilled food artists is so high that many start work after only two years of training.
  • Sushi aficionados never look at a menu, seldom use chopsticks, and avoid soy sauce and extra wasabi.
  • Approximately 80% of the world’s bluefin tuna catch is used for sushi.
  • Today’s sushi began as a type of fast food—the 19th-century Japanese equivalent of a McDonald’s drive-thru.
  • Sushi dates back to at least the second century A.D., beginning as a method of preserving fish in China. See our “The History of Sushi” page for more details about sushi history.
  • The word “sushi” doesn’t refer to fish at all—it refers to rice that has been seasoned with vinegar, sugar, and salt.sushi
  • Nearly half the fish consumed as food worldwide are raised on fish farms rather than caught in the wild, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
  • Americans assume sushi is good for them. In fact, most sushi rolls served in the U.S. are loaded with carbohydrates, sugar, fat, and sodium.
  • Japan’s Agriculture Ministry has set up a panel to discuss a certification system for Japanese restaurants abroad. Possible gastronomic crimes include slicing fish too thick, using too little or too much wasabi and over-boiling rice. Japanese tourists have also been known to complain about greasy tempura, floppy, lifeless noodles and seaweed that is not crispy enough. The ministry said its aim was to “spread correct Japanese gastronomic culture” and “improve the reliability of our country’s food” in foreign countries.
  • Inside-out rolls are the mainstay of American sushi—and are an American invention. They didn’t exist in Japan until recently, when they were imported from the United States.
  • The highest price ever paid for a sushi grade Bluefin Tuna was $396,000 for a 754 pound fish ($526/lb) on January 4th, 2011 at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. What makes this more interesting is that this record was 10 years to the day as the last record. Previously, the highest price ever paid for a sushi grade Bluefin Tuna was $173,600 for a 444 pound fish ($391/lb) on January 5th, 2001.
  • The mound of wasabi you get at a sushi bar isn’t wasabi at all. Moreover, by mixing it in your soy sauce, you are reducing its potency—and offending the chef.
  • California rolls sushiThe United States Food and Drug Administration stipulates that all fish to be eaten raw (with the exception of tuna) must be frozen first, in order to kill parasites.
  • Most Americans have never eaten a proper nigiri. Sushi chefs in the U.S. pack their nigiri much too tightly on purpose, because Americans don’t know how to eat them.
  • A key flavor component of sushi served both in the U.S. and Japan is a form of MSG—which was invented not in China, but in Japan, by Japanese scientists studying seaweed.
  • Japanese usually eat miso soup not at the beginning of the meal, but at the end—to aid digestion.
  • In Japan, an apprentice sushi chef spends two years learning to cook and season the rice, and another three learning to prepare fish, before he is allowed to work behind the sushi bar.
  • In the U.S., high demand for sushi chefs means that many work behind the bar after only a few months of training.
  • In Japan, women experience discrimination at sushi bars, both as customers and when they try to become chefs.
  • Sushi chefs do far more cooking behind the scenes than most customers realize. At the sushi bar, the chef must be not only a master of kitchen skills, but a savvy performer as well.
  • Many sushi chefs believe that the customer eats not just with his mouth, but with his eyes. Preparing sushi is like creating a Zen garden.
  • The knives used by sushi chefs are the direct descendants of samurai swords, and the blades must be sharpened and reshaped every day.
  • The priciest ingredient of modern sushi—bluefin tuna belly—was once so despised by the Japanese that
  • sushi 2 they considered it unfit for human consumption.
  • In today’s sushi, frozen fish is often “fresher” than fresh fish.
  • Among sushi toppings, clams actually have more flavor than any of the fish. At the sushi bars of old Tokyo, customers often preferred boiled clams over raw slices of fish.
  • The raw shrimp served in sushi all begin life as males—and then they all suddenly become females and have sex with their younger siblings.
  • The mass-production of sushi rolls was made possible by a pioneering female scientist in Britain in the 1940s. Japanese seaweed farmers have erected a shrine in her memory.
  • One of the favorite sushi fishes—yellowtail—is factory farmed like veal and fattened until its muscles disintegrate while it’s still alive.
  • The best sushi chefs prepare octopus by giving the animal a lengthy, full-body massage—while the creature is still moving.